1. challenge the idea of a single meaning of reality.
2. accept randomness, incoherence, indeterminacy and paradox.
3. skeptical about the positivist tradition in science and essentialist theories.
4. meanings are historically situated and constructed and reconstructed through language.
Howard (1990) states:
All across the intellectual landscape, the forces of objectivism are yielding to the entreaties of constructivist thought. But it is rather surprising that even our notion of science has been radically altered by recent constructivist thought. Briefly objectivism believes in a free-standing reality, the truth about which can eventually be discovered. The constructivist assumes that all mental images are creations of people, and thus speak of an invented reality. Objectivists focus on the accuracy of their theories, whereas constructivists think of the utility of their models. Watzlawick (1984) claimed that the shift from objectivism to Constructivism involves a growing awareness that any so-called reality is--in the most immediate and concrete sense--the construction of those who believe they have discovered and investigated it. (p. 187)
Alan Ryan (1995) also comments on Postmodernism:
Postmodernism is a label that embraces multitudes, but two ideas especially relevant here are its skepticism about the amount of control that a writer exercises over his or her work, and a sharp sense of the fragility of personal identity. These interact, of course. The idea that each of us is a single Self consorts naturally with the idea that we tell stories, advance theories, and interact with others from one particular viewpoint. Skepticism about such a picture of our identities consorts naturally with the thought that we are at the mercy of the stories we tell, as much as they are at our mercy. It also consorts naturally with an inclination to emphasize just how accidental it is that we hold the views we do, live where we do, and have the loyalties we do. Ryan, 1995, p. 33).
One should note, however, that these discussions are not met without controversy and resistance (eg., see John Searle's, 1990 article, "The Storm Over the University"). Giroux's (1990, pp 9-13) paper concerning "postmodernism" also discusses an alternative view, "modernism," defended by Habermas (1987).
There may be what Bruner & Feldman (1986; Bruner, 1990; Bruner, 1996) described as"plural realities." I refer here to the problem of determining whether there is an objective reality out there to be discovered (the positivist, "realist" and "instrumentalist" schools of thought), or a subjective reality which we impose upon nature (a "constructionist," "relativist" school of thought). Other more philosophical perspectives on constructivist views of learning might include Prawat and Floden's (1994) article. Bohan (1990) has described a pedagogical strategy for teaching about the history of psychology which is based on "Social Constructionism." Bevin's (1991) essay discusses the need for new intellectual models in the social and behavioral sciences which draw upon the social construction of scientific outcomes which are an outgrowth of collaboration. Howard (1990) is another example concerned with pluralistic views. Phillip's (1983) paper on "Postpositivist Educational Thought," explains the many possible views which have surfaced to counter the original "logical positivist" view of the Wiener Kreis (Vienna Circle, circa 1920).
Ernst Cassirer (1955) has proposed that discourse creates (his term is "enacts") the world. Knowledge is not 'about' the world, but rather 'constitutive' of the world. Cassirer states:
Every authentic function of the human spirit has this decisive characteristic in common with cognition: it does not merely copy but rather embodies an original, formative power. It does not express passively the mere fact that something is present but contains an independent energy of the human spirit through which the simple presence of the phenomenon assumes a definite 'meaning,' a particular ideational content. (p. 78)
He continues, presenting a strong link between art, myth, language and cognition when he suggests that they are not "...different modes in which an independent reality manifests itself to the human spirit but roads by which the spirit proceeds toward its objectivization, ie., its self-revelation" (p. 78). Eisner (1981) has expressed similar ideas when differentiating the scientific from the artistic approach to qualitative research. Goodman (1983) describes himself as a "constructionist" and "relativist" and expresses quite similar thinking. There is a concordance between what Cassirer and Goodman are describing and Perry's (1970) fifth stage of cognitive development, the "relativism or contextual thinking stage."
"In the course of his contacts (and especially, his conflicts and arguments) with other children, the child increasingly finds himself forced to reexamine his own precepts and concepts in the light of those others, and by so doing, gradually rids himself of cognitive egocentrism."
This may be true of adults as well. John Stuart Mill has stated that "Since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinion that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied" (in Johnson, 1979, p. 361). Johnson et al. (1986) have continued to emphasize the positive and creative role of cognitive conflict and disequilibrium as motivation for learning (Johnson &;Johnson, 1987; Johnson et al., 1991a &;1991b; Cooper, 1995). Recent research on social motivation reviewed by Geen (1991) would also suggest that a cooperative social setting would enhance arousal.
Transactional rhetoric is based on an epistemology that sees truth as arising out of the interaction of the elements of the rhetorical situation: an interaction of subject and object or of subject and audience or even all the elements - subject, object, audience, and language -operating simultaneously. (p. 15)
One solution, then, to the problems of conceptual conflict and the integration of divergent viewpoints as found in the rich reserves of available psychological theories is through writing. The present author has been strongly influenced by several researchers interested in the writing process (Elbow, 1986 &;1987; Jones, 1987; Fulwiler, 1986; Fulwiler &;Young, 1982; Fulwiler &; Jones, 1982). During the Seventh Annual Lilly Conference on College Teaching Peter Elbow and Robert Jones made a forceful and convincing case for the integration of the writing process across various curricula. Effective writing as a means of communication is an important skill which should be one of the successful outcomes of a college education. Teaching this skill effectively, it is argued, can only be accomplished when it is encouraged in other disciplines outside of the Departments of English which have traditionally been assigned this responsibility. The discipline of psychology is aware of the need to incorporate writing into its teaching practices (see the special issue of Teaching of Psychology, 17(1), 1990, whose entire contents, nearly 16 articles, is devoted to the uses of writing in the psychology curriculum).
Elbow (1986) expresses a particularly post-modern view which is strongly related to Cassirer's (1955), Bruner's (Bruner &;Feldman, 1986) and Goodman's (1983) notions of plural realities and also associated with conceptual conflict:
This dilemma has led me more often than I realized to work things out in terms of contraries: to gravitate toward oppositions and even to exaggerate differences - while also tending to notice how both sides of the opposition must somehow be right. My instinct has thus made me seek ways to avoid the limitations of the single point of view. And it has led me to a common sense view that surely there cannot be only 'one' right way to learn and teach (p. x). Others (Greene &;Akerman, 1995) seem to agree with this position as well.
Lewinian-oriented psychologists subscribe to the theory that human behavior is a result of the interaction of persons with their environments. This has lead to many speculations on "ACTION THEORY." An action theory examines the actions needed to achieve a desired consequence in a given situation. Johnson &;Johnson (1987) have stated that "when you generate an action theory from your own experiences and then continually modify it to improve its effectiveness, you are learning experientially (p. 16-17). Experiential learning has three effects: 1) cognitive structures are altered, 2) attitudes are modified and 3) behavioral skills are expanded, and this is a cyclical process. The Johnsons (1987) have presented 12 principles of experiential learning, of which the last four focus on the influence of environments on individuals, especially within the context of a social group. Membership in a group which is supportive and accepting will free a person to experiment with new behaviors, attitudes, and action theories. One such group might be a cooperative classroom structured for learning. The Johnsons (1979) have differentiated three types of classroom goal structures including 1) cooperative, 2) individually competitive, and 3) individualistic. These goal structures are primarily based on the notion of the presence or absence of positive interdependence among classroom members. One form of cooperative learning has been labeled "Collaborative Learning" and has been used extensively in the teaching of writing at the post-secondary level of education (Bruffee, 1993). While elements of collaborative learning are present in many cooperative pedagogical strategies, some have felt it necessary to make a distinction between collaborative and cooperative learning (Brody, 1995). Cooperative goal structures are in operation when two or more individuals are in a situation where the task-related efforts of individuals help others to be rewarded (positive interdependence). Group members behave in a positively interdependent fashion and are rewarded on the basis of the quality or quantity of the group product according to a fixed set of standards. Collaborative learning might fit into this category of goal structure. Sherman's (1990; Millis, Sherman &;Cottell, 1993) Dyadic Essay Confrontations (DEC) is considered to be an example of a cooperative technique which makes use of collaborative learning.
Giroux (1990, p. 35) has stated that "...critical educators need to provide a sense of how the most critical elements of modernism, postmodernism, and postmodern feminism might be taken up by teachers and educators so as to create a postmodern pedagogical practice." The present author has tried to adapt and apply relativistic and constructionist viewpoints by introducing conceptual conflict (disequilibrium) into the teaching of these classes. An additional concern has been to challenge and foster higher level cognitive processes (see Perry, 1970 as well as Bloom et al., 1971) by encouraging critical integration, synthesis, evaluation and analysis of knowledge. The pedagogical practices described below uses the medium of writing and cooperative discourse associated with computer mediated communication. In the spirit of "authentic instruction," (Newmann &;Wehlage, 1993), outcomes of this pedagogical strategy are believed to be: 1) increased higher-order thinking; 2) greater depth of knowledge; 3) more connectedness to the world beyond the classroom; 4) substantive conversation; and 5) greater social support for student achievement.
See an example of the DEC Process here!
|Class||Mean||SD||F (7,111)||p||Overall Mean/ (SD)|
|SPRING 96(n=?)||(EDP 201 HONORS)||3.92||0.67|
|Class||Mean||SD||F (7,111)||p||Overall Mean/ (SD)|
|SPRING 96||(EDP201 HONORS)||3.75||0.62|
|Class||Mean||SD||F (7,111)||p||Overall Mean/ (SD)|
|SPRING 96||(EDP201 HONORS)||4.17||0.58|
#4 IS THERE SUBSTANTIVE CONVERSATION IN THIS CLASS: (no conversation 1 to 5 high-level conversation)
|Class||Mean||SD||F (7,111)||p||Overall Mean/ (SD)|
|SPRING 96||(EDP201 HONORS)||4.08||0.90|
|Class||Mean||SD||F (7,111)||p||Overall Mean/ (SD)|
|SPRING 96||(EDP201 HONORS)||4.25||0.75|
The significance of the dyad as the simplest and most important sociological formation described as a "group" has been extensively discussed by Simmel (1965) and others. Pedagogical applications of the empirical findings from group dynamics studies of dyads is sparse. However, teaching through the use of dyadic peer pairings is presently gaining a renewed interest from instructors and social psychological researchers alike (Goldschmid, 1971; Schirmerhorn et al., 1975; Larson &;Dansereau, 1986; Dansereau 1987; van Oudenhoven et al., 1987a &;1987b; Fantuzzo et al., 1989; Sherman, 1990). Frederick (1981 &;1986) has described the usefulness of dyads in stimulating classroom dialogue in college history classes. The dyad is one of the most central structures of the Johnsons' (1987) latest pedagogical strategy, "Creative Conflict". For a more thorough discussion of cooperative classroom writing in "collaborative" and "Peer Response" groups, Dipardo &;Freedman's (1988) recent article as well as Gere (1987) provide a great wealth of information and clarification. Recently, at the Fourth Convention of the International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education, Hertz-Lazarowitz et al., (1988) and Telles (1988) presented newly innovated dyadic techniques for teaching. While DEC is not the same as these other approaches, the focus on dyads in the teaching/learning process is an important point of convergence. As Hertz-Lazarowitz et al. (1988) have pointed out, dyadic teaching has had a long and distinguished history of successful use among Talmudic scholars for nearly 2000 years. Hertz-Lazarowitz's et al. (1988) technique is based on a hierarchial arrangement of tutor/tutee pairings in which both members of the dyad reverse roles at one time or another while imparting knowledge to each other. Telles (1988) technique issimilar to Aronson's (1978) "jigsaw" technique with the addition of concentrated dyadic interactions among "expert group" members. These examples are based on a rationale of "cognitive rehearsal" and assume convergence of thought and an external objectivity which is to be learned. DEC, however, is based on postmodern thought including the concepts associated with transactional theories of rhetoric, cognitive elaboration and arousal, paradox, divergence and plural realities. DEC, as presented in this manuscript, is a continuation of the author's earlier and continuing concerns for promoting learning through small group discussions (Sherman, 1976, 1977 &;1986; Millis, Sherman &;Cottell, 1993).
The classes receiving this type of strategy generally felt that it was highly beneficial to their learning of both the content of the class and about each other's perceptions of that content. While a six-item, objectively administered and university sanctioned "course/professor/evaluation" instrument was administered to all sections, the individual items were not as informative as the anecdotal comments which were volunteered. Most of the written comments contributed by students reflected a highly positive acceptance of the writing experience. Above all, the experience was highly motivating, stimulating much more intense study of the text and related reading materials. These findings are quite similar to those reported by McKeachie (1990a, pp., 191-194) in his review of research on college teaching focused on "student-centered discussion." His (McKeachie, 1990b) further comments concerning the "...importance of trying to find out what is in the mind of the learner," (p. 139) are also highly relevant. Confronting their peers in the class motivated students to study and think about the materials in more depth. It has been suggested that this technique also promoted "critical reading" as much as writing skills. Students believed that it helped them understand the theories better, and expanded their perception of the importance, application, and interpretation of these theories. This was especially so when interpreting theories which appeared to result in the greatest differential perceptions (e.g., where cognitive conflict was most apparent). One of the most common remarks overheard in class confrontation/dialogue was "I never 'thought' of that!" or "While I thought this was the 'right' answer, I can certainly see what you were focusing on."
Thus, in general, it is believed that these strategies are favorably accepted by students. From the instructor's perspective, the students progressively become more sophisticated as the semester continues, with the best, most integrated questions and answers and reflections/reactions appearing at the end of the class. The conceptual ideas upon which the questions and answers are based cover a broad sampling of topics associated with the various theories, almost as comprehensive as what might be traditionally included in objective multiple-choice tests. Many students expressed the view that they felt much more critically and analytically competent at the end of the class than they did at the beginning. Thus, it is felt that not only did the students experience postmodern teaching techniques, but may have also gained an appreciation and developed toward a more relativistic stage of conceptual thinking (Perry, 1970). They also gained considerable skills in using CMC.
Two additional comments appear relevant. Many contemporary developmental theorists are emphasizing the importance of "postmodern" thinking (e.g., Bronfenbrenner et al., 1986) as well as the development of postmodern pedagogical practices (Giroux, 1990). These strategies are, in spirit, a modest attempt at satisfying these needs. The second point concerns the contemporary movement to encourage more use of technology as well as writing experience across the curriculum (Michalak, 1989). Three of this author's English department colleagues who have been highly active in promoting writing activities across curricula and have read this manuscript. One important comment which all three volunteered was the importance of disseminating reports such as this to disciplines other than audiences whose concern is already "writing": eg., the National Council of Teachers of English. In other words, "don't preach to the choir."
While the strategies described in this essay obviously take up more instructor time in reading, responding and evaluating, it is believed that the gains in student writing abilities and critical thinking (rhetoric), and the motivating stimulation of the class discussions are worth the efforts. The special issue of Teaching of Psychology (Nodine, 1990) which is devoted entirely to "Psychologists Teach Writing," has several articles expressing similar sentiments. However, it should be noted that virtually all of the articles contained in that issue focus on individual student writing projects, rather than cooperative or collaborative classroom pedagogical strategies. The only article weakly linking a peer-tutor cooperative strategy was Levine's (1990). While some of the authors acknowledge the dialogue which traditionally takes place between instructor and student, none of the articles recognize the peer interactive models available in cooperative learning. Five years later in the February, 1995 special issue of Teaching of Psychology (Volume 22, Number 1) devoted to "Psychologists Teach Critical Thinking," nearly 60% of the articles mention some form of cooperative learning, however, only one of the articles utilizes computer based technologies (Wolfe, 1995). Thus, increasing use of writing appears to be happening, but inclusion of computer-based technologies, especially in the form of CMC, does not seem to be as prevalent. Lastly, while the rich variety of psychology theories associated with the field of educational psychology is eminently suited to this technique, it is believed that many other disciplines which likewise abound in diverse theory could benefit from this approach.
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